Spirulina has become the latest darling of the health food world. This nourishing blue-green algae is renowned as a “superfood” due to its dense concentration of protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. But there’s no skirting around the fact that spirulina has an intense, acquired taste. For some, it’s a pleasant surprise. For others, it elicits a strong gag reflex.
So, before you add spirulina to your next smoothie or acai bowl, it’s helpful to understand precisely what spirulina tastes like. Read on for a deep dive into spirulina’s unique flavor profile and some tips for making it more palatable.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a type of biomass made up of blue-green algae that thrives in freshwater lakes across the world. It grows abundantly in tropical areas like Hawaii, Africa, and South America, where locals have harvested it as a food source for centuries.
Today, it’s still cultivated worldwide, dried into a fine green powder, and sold as a dietary supplement praised for its therapeutic benefits. Thanks to its stellar nutritional stats, spirulina has also moved into the mainstream as an ingredient in smoothies, bites, teas, and more.
The Different Forms of Spirulina
Spirulina can be found in several forms:
- Powder: The most common type, spirulina powder has a fine, velvety texture almost like matcha. It blends easily into liquids or can be mixed into batters, doughs, etc.
- Tablets/capsules: Many take spirulina in convenient tablet or capsule form as a daily supplement. May be easier to swallow than the powder for some.
- Flakes: Larger pieces of dried spirulina resemble green flakes. They may be easier to mix into recipes without clumping.
- Liquid extracts: Concentrated tinctures deliver a potent dose of phytonutrients in just a few drops.
The taste, quality, and therapeutic power can vary slightly depending on the form. However, when fresh and unspoiled, spirulina has largely the same nutritional benefits across the board.
What Does Spirulina Taste Like?
Imagine a beam of sunlight in plant form — that’s essentially what spirulina tastes like. It conveys bright, verdant flavors like grass, spinach, and seaweed with mildly saline and umami qualities.
Most would describe its taste as:
You may also detect hints of:
Of course, taste is highly subjective. To some, spirulina may taste primarily tart and green; for others, it’s reminiscent of the salty ocean breeze. Much depends on the variety as well as your personal flavor sensitivities.
One taste that spirulina should NOT impart is overt fishiness. While it does contain omega-3s with a subtle brininess, a potent fish flavor indicates spoilage or contamination. Always source spirulina from high-quality suppliers.
Why Such Polarizing Opinions on Taste of Spirulina?
Reviews on spirulina’s palatability run the gamut from “delicious” to “pond scum.” So why the extreme reactions?
Firstly, its intense flavor profile is simply not for all palates. Just as some despise the taste of parsley or cilantro while others welcome it, spirulina’s strong personality excites some taste buds while overwhelming others.
The drying process also significantly impacts spirulina’s taste and smell. Inferior drying techniques can intensify unpleasant “off” flavors. On the other hand, when done right, drying helps mute any overt fishiness while concentrating its fresh, green essence.
Additionally, many compare spirulina’s taste to seaweed or fish flakes, which they find unappetizing. However, spirulina itself is not seaweed nor derived from fish. When harvested from uncontaminated freshwater sources, its prevailing flavor is vibrantly grassy and plant-like.
What Does Spirulina Taste Like in Smoothies & Foods?
When adding spirulina powder or flakes to smoothies and bowls, it contributes a distinctly “green” flavor — akin to wheatgrass or matcha, only more pungent. Its bold personality shines alongside other mix-ins.
The good news is that pairing spirulina with stronger-tasting fruits, spices, and mix-ins helps mitigate any offensive flavors. Berries, citrus, vanilla, mint, and cacao make excellent flavor companions. Creamy bananas, peanut butter, and nut milk also help mellow spirulina’s sharp edges.
While spirulina powder blends seamlessly into liquids, lending vibrant color and nutrition, its seaweed essence permeates any recipe. Even a small amount (like 1⁄2 teaspoon) makes its presence known.
Therefore, baking recipes like cookies, muffins, and breads often disguise spirulina’s taste better than smoothies. The algae get swallowed up by sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, and other strong baking spices.
Savory recipes like pesto, salad dressings, crackers, hummus, and guacamole also absorb spirulina well, allowing its earthy qualities to meld into the dish.
Ways to Improve Spirulina’s Flavor
For those who find straight spirulina repugnant, have hope! Using a few clever tricks makes ingesting this superfood much more pleasant and changes the answer of what does spirulina tastes like.
- Mix with strongly flavored fruits: Berries, citrus, mango, pineapple, etc.
- Add natural sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, dates, stevia, etc. A little goes a long way.
- Incorporate creamy ingredients: Nut butter, avocado, coconut milk, etc.
- Fold into dark, spicy blends: Chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, cardamom, etc.
- Start with very small amounts (1⁄4 tsp) and work upwards slowly as taste buds adjust.
- Ensure high-quality production methods from reputable growers.
- Grow accustomed to flavor by taking it consistently. Tastes often change over time.
- Try tablets or capsules if opposed to powder form.
Obscuring spirulina’s flavor often diminishes its therapeutic power. But for those who genuinely can’t swallow the taste, disguising it in food helps you still reap the nutritional rewards.
Potential Health Benefits of Consuming Spirulina
While spirulina ranks low on palatability for many, its stellar nutritional profile makes acquiring a taste worthwhile:
- Dense in protein: Roughly 60-70% protein makes spirulina a stalwart meat substitute. The protein quality rivals eggs, quinoa, and steak.
- Rich in antioxidants: Phycocyanin, carotenoids, tocopherols, and more combat disease-causing free radicals and inflammation.
- Excellent source of B vitamins: A rare plant-based source of B12, plus substantial amounts of B1, B2, B3, B6, and folate.
- Packed with minerals: Iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and more help optimize bodily functions.
- Contains key micronutrients: Essential fatty acids, enzymes, nucleic acids, chlorophyll, and more aid cellular repair and vitality.
- Bolsters energy, immunity, and metabolism: Shown to enhance mood, endurance, digestion, heart health, and mental clarity.
- Lowers disease risk factors: Can improve cholesterol ratios, blood pressure levels, and vascular function.
Of course, more research still needs to confirm some of these glowing health claims. But current evidence combined with thousands of years of safe use solidifies spirulina’s “superfood” status.
Even a modest daily dose delivers abundant nutrition to fill dietary gaps. And while powder or extracts provide peak potency, the convenience of tablets and capsules means you still benefit without the taste.
Potential Side Effects of Spirulina
For most people, spirulina poses no significant side effects at typical supplement dosages. However, some report reactions like:
- Upset stomach or nausea when taken on an empty stomach
- Headache from the alkalizing effect
- Sensitivity to spirulina itself or fillers and binders
- Rare allergic reactions in those with seafood/iodine allergies
To mitigate risk:
- Start with 1⁄4-1⁄2 tsp powder or 100mg tablets
- Avoid plastic-laden brands (look for vegan capsules instead)
- Get lab-verified, 100% pure spirulina extract
Of course, discuss with your doctor before trying, especially if pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised. Children and pets may also face greater sensitivity.
Despite polarizing opinions on taste, most health experts enthusiastically sing spirulina’s praises, owing to its incredible nutrition stats without being concerned much about what spirulina tastes like.
While some find it pleasantly earthy or saline, if you fall into the camp that spirulina tastes like stagnant pond water, rest assured you can sneak its goodness into smoothies, energy bites, and baked goods without suffering.
The bottom line? Spirulina offers far too much nutritional upside to rule it out for flavor qualms alone.